MSC Flaminia Incident Prompts New EU Guidelines for Ships in Distress

The MSC Flaminia on fire in the North Atlantic in 2012.
The MSC Flaminia on fire in the North Atlantic in 2012.

The European Commission has presented new EU Operational guidelines for ships in need of assistance.

The guidelines have been developed by a group comprised of Member States’ authorities with input and support of industry stakeholders following a Commission initiative in the aftermath of the fatal MSC Flaminia accident in summer 2012.

The EU operational guidelines were drafted to ensure better coordination and exchange of information among competent authorities and industry stakeholders involved in the response to an incident concerning a ship in need of assistance, such as the MSC Flaminia in July 2012.

The German-flagged containership MSC Flaminia was rocked by a series of explosions in one its cargo holds and a devastating fire while in international waters in the Atlantic Ocean. Three crew members were killed in the blasts, and the ship suffered severe damage from the fire that engulfed the vessel for weeks. Due to the hazard, the ship was stuck out at sea for months and denied port access by nearly every possible EU country before Germany finally agreed accept ship into Wilhelmshaven in September.

The incident ignited a debate over Place of Refuge, a place where a ship in need of assistance can go to stabilize its condition and reduce the hazards to navigation, as well as to protect human life and the environment.

In the aftermath of the MSC Flaminia incident, an expert group was established in 2013 under the chairmanship of the Commission, and comprising all EU Member States, to develop EU Operational Guidelines to complement national plans and apply to situations where it is likely that more than one State may become involved, or where the incident falls outside the jurisdiction of any single Member State.

“It is a good example of proactive implementation of EU legislation, building on best practices and sharing experience, which is fully in line with President Juncker’s strategic approach to Better Regulation,” commented Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

The EU Operational Guidelines were drafted with a real operational situation for a vessel in need of assistance in mind, in a common effort including EU Member States, and several industry stakeholders, with the support of the Commission and EMSA. They aim at a robust operational process leading to well-advised and, where possible, quicker decision making. At the same time, they should contribute to promoting positive attitudes – within Governments, authorities, and the industry – for the purposes of Places of Refuge, in the interest of the protection of human life, maritime safety, security and the environment.

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